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Source: Intel Briefers Not Ambiguous about Their Assessment of Russia's Preference for Trump; Trump Supports Loyalist Richard Grenell as Acting DNI; Trump Wants Loyalist GOP Rep. Doug Jones for Intelligence Chief; Intel Officials Sound Alarm on Russian Meddling in 2020 Election; Bloomberg Campaign C-Chair & Former L.A. Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Discusses Warren Attacking Bloomberg on Women, Sexual Harassment, NDAs. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 11:00   ET



ANDY PARKER, AUTHOR: And that's why -- and real quick, I'll give you -- here is an example. In a meeting with some congressional staff, Lance Cavanagh (ph), who is YouTube's legal counsel, told them, you know, when they said, well, you know why is this one up and they showed him a screen shot of the video of Alison's murder, and this guy had the slimy audacity to say, well, you know, technically these aren't against the law.

Well, you know, unfortunately, he's correct. But until we do something with 230 -- and it is starting to happen, I'm working with congressional folks now to get legislation happening.


PARKER: So that's going to change and that kind of attitude and behavior will change.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Andy, I appreciate your time.

And, again, we put Google and YouTube's responses out there. They're welcome to join us to continue this conversation.

And we're just, again, so sorry for your loss. I think about Alison a lot.

Thank you very much for being with us, Andy.

PARKER: Thank you, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: And thanks to all of you for joining me. Jim and I will see you back here Monday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me. With less than nine months it Election Day, a new warning from the

U.S. Intelligence Community, a warning the president did not want folks to hear, that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 election and, according to some sources, is trying to help Donald Trump.

But this is a complicated, complex story. The warning came in a briefing to members of Congress last week by the top intel official responsible for election security.

And sources tell CNN that warning prompted an irate response from the president. Irate not over the very real threat to national security, but sources tell CNN he was furious over who the Intel Community shared the warning with, and also other sources say he was irate over how he himself found out about it.

In the wake of the briefing, the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is on his way out. The president, replacing him with a staunch loyalist, Richard Grenell, the current U.S. ambassador to Germany, who doesn't have experience in intelligence.

Let's get straight to CNN national security correspondent, Vivian Salama, with a big part of the story.

So, Vivian, what more are you learning about this briefing?

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Our reporters are learning that a number of lawmakers were in the briefing room last week when someone from DNI actually went to give them the assessment.

And essentially, what the assessment found was that Russia is trying to meddle in the upcoming election but also that Russia has developed a preference for Trump.

And this triggered a lot of debate among Republicans and Democrats, Kate, because a lot of Republicans felt like it just couldn't be true. They felt they needed more information to even understand how this could be true, and some of them arguing that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than anyone else. And Democrats felt this was obviously very significant development and wanted to push for more information given its sensitivity.

But obviously a lot of wrangling among partisan lines here. And the ultimate outcome of this was that President Trump wasn't the first to know. And so that triggered a very angry response from him, when he eventually found out about this briefing. And he didn't care about either the findings or the fact that Democrats especially were hearing about it before him.

BOLDUAN: Vivian, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

So in the wake of all of that, that Vivian laid out, President Trump is putting a staunch supporter and aggressive defender in the top spot. Richard Grenell will be serving as the acting director of National Intelligence. And while the president said just as recently as last night that is he considering another supporter to be the permanent intel chief, Republican Congressman Doug Collins, from Georgia, this morning, Doug Collins says he's not interested.

CNN's John Harwood is at the White House with this part of this tale.

John, we have seen time and again that the president has had trouble feeling some of these critical roles in the administration. What do these now -- this grouping of personnel moves tell you?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you're foremost requirement is loyalty rather than professionalism, you're going to have a hard time getting professional public servants to serve in your administration.

And that's why you have the president elevating somebody like Rick Grenell, who is the ambassador to Germany, to this role on a temporary basis. Rick Grenell as you noted in the intro, has no conventional qualifications to fulfill this role.

In the case of Doug Collins, Doug Collins wants to win a Senate seat from Georgia. I think he think that's a better long-term play than serving in the administration in this role. And the administration like to get him out of the way because Mitch McConnell wants Doug Collins out of that race, they have an incumbent appointed Senator who they're trying to get re-elected.

But this is a case where the president does not welcome attention to the fact that Russia prefers him over a potential Democrat, as they did in 2016. They helped him win in 2016.


And the information, as Vivian indicated, there's some conflict now in the reporting about exactly how specific the information that was given to members of Congress was, how solid it is.

But it would not -- should not surprise anyone, Kate, to expect that Russia, in fact, does want Donald Trump who has fostered their overarching goals of dividing the western alliance, weakening NATO, expanding Russian influence in places like the Middle East.

BOLDUAN: Especially, and look no further than the president's own public comments, time and time again, since his -- since winning the election in 2016, right, John?

HARWOOD: That's right. Kate, he's also, I should say, put out a tweet in the last few minutes saying that this is another Democratic misinformation campaign, blasting the Democrats for not being able to count their votes properly in Iowa, saying this is hoax number seven.

So the president clearly is trying to stop this story in its tracks, but we got a long way to go with this.

BOLDUAN: Exactly where this doesn't need to be heading in terms of intelligence, pointing to Russia interfering again in a U.S. election is making it partisan straight out of the gate.

John, thank you so much.

You can be sure there will be much more coming from the White House today.

So while there's still much to learn, as John is pointing out, about the threat from Russia to the 2020 election, there's one thing that seems certain that this dust up is sure to enflame tension and mistrust between President Trump and the Intelligence Community.

No matter what the intelligence says now, remember what President Trump's position has been all along since 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said they think it is Russia. I have President Putin -- he just said it is not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.



BOLDUAN: CNN national security correspondent, Kylie Atwood, joins me now.

So, Kylie, that's what the president has said, as we just played, that's not what other top government officials have been saying and saying very recently, just in the last few weeks, right?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kate. There have long been warnings by U.S. officials that Russians have continued to meddle in the U.S. democratic process, particularly when it comes to U.S. elections. And that they try and do that to sow discontent and anger an confusion among Americans.

We heard about that specifically just a few weeks ago from the FBI Director Wray. Let's listen to what he had to say.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We certainly are seeing and have never stopped seeing really since 2016 efforts to engage and malign foreign influence by the Russians.

They identify an issue that they know that the American people feel passionately about on both sides, and then they take both sides and spin them up so they pit us against each other. And then they combine that with an effort to weaken our confidence in our elections and our democratic institutions, which is a pernicious and asymmetric way of engaging in information warfare.


ATWOOD: And Russia's maligned influence is not only limited to the United States. Just this week, Secretary Pompeo and U.S. government came out accusing Russia of interfering in Georgia for a cyber activity that they had disrupted there.

I want to read you a statement from what Secretary Pompeo said on that just this week. He said, quote, "This action contradicts Russia's attempts to claim that is a responsible actor in cyberspace and demonstrates a continuing pattern of recklessness by Russia's GRU cyber operations against a number of countries. These operations aim to sow division, create insecurity and undermine Democratic institutions."

Making it very clear there that as the U.S. is trying to fend Russia off from interfering in the U.S. elections, they're also interfering in the domestic politics of other countries.

BOLDUAN: That was a strong statement coming from the secretary of state.

But to your point, what has the administration said about what it is doing to prevent interference here.

ATWOOD: They came out with an op-ed, a number of top Trump administration officials just this week. I want to read you a portion of that. It is really important. They "committed to being aware of these efforts to intervene and disrupt the election."

They said, in part, quote, "Safeguarding the sanctity of your vote is paramount. States have made significant progress since 2016. But as long as the threat remains, there's work to be done. We have yet to identify any activity designed to prevent voting or change votes. However, we remain watchful of any malicious activities from cybercriminals and foreign actors like Russia, China and Iran."


We should note here, Kate, one of the folks who was the author of that op-ed was the former now director of National Intelligence Maguire, who has been let go because President Trump was frustrated that he even allowed the intelligence assessment to go to Congress last week regarding Russia and their activity.

BOLDUAN: Sometimes, again, you know, another example of two very different messages coming from the Oval Office and then the other parts of the administration.

Kylie, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Bear, former CIA operative.

Bob, this is a complex picture that is emerging from this intelligence briefing last week. But if the president was irate over Democratic members of Congress, like Adam Schiff being briefed on the intel like this, how serious is that?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: Well, rarely I do this, but I'll take the side of Trump. If you're going to talk about the president of Congress, you got to give him a heads up. It is very sensitive.

Congress needs to know there's Russian interference, going to occur in 2020, but you also need to give the White House its -- it is a question of dysfunction in the White House that message wasn't transmitted to the White House in time.

BOLDUAN: Right, so that's one aspect of it, right? And then this -- I would say adding to the complexity of the picture, if part of the reason he was upset, and this is some sources saying this, part of the reason he was upset is because purely that he was afraid that Democrats in Congress, Congress would then utilize this information against him.

The fact he's -- that would point to Trump being upset that an intel assessment was given to members of Congress that should be getting the intel assessment, how dangerous is that?

BAER: It is dangerous because Congress leaks. It always has.

But on the other hand, if you take the Democratic side, Democrats, especially Schiff needs to know what is happening with Russia. We know the National Security Agency is withholding raw intelligence from the Intelligence Committees for partisan reasons.

We're just so divided. And this is exactly what the Russians want, is to undermine the legitimacy of our government and they're doing a great job. Whether they support Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump in 2020, they are succeeding and we are not fighting back. And that's what it comes down to.

BOLDUAN: And Jake Tapper, my colleague, Jake Tapper, is reporting that this briefing, there's a more complex picture coming with this briefing, right? One source telling him the intel conclusion is actually a step short of what was presented to these members of Congress in the briefing, that it was more that Russia believes Trump is someone they can work with, not that they prefer him over a Democrat.

What does that difference mean?

BAER: Well, the Russians are very subtle about this. They look at Trump as disruption. That's all they really care about. And they also want to put doubt in Americans' minds.

And in terms of controlling Trump, clearly that's not true. He has conceded Syria to Russia, and other parts of the Middle East. On the other hand, he still armed Ukraine. He's got a good argument. He goes either way.

For the Russians' purpose, as long as they can sow confusion in our electorate and divide this country 50/50 down the line whether Trump somehow answers to Putin, they've succeeded.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, with the president appointing a political ally without intel experience as acting DNI right now, is there a legitimate basis for fear that future intelligence would be kept from Congress?

BAER: Absolutely. I think we're seeing more and more the Intelligence Community is becoming a propaganda arm of the White House. And you have to put loyalists at the head of DNI simply to control the information.

The last thing you want is an assessment going to Congress in October, saying the Russians are deep into this election and they're supporting Trump. That will leak out and that will affect the election.

So having a loyalist in that job is very, very key to this White House.

BOLDUAN: Very, very. That outcome very, very scary and dangerous for rest of the country.

Good to see you, Bob. Thank you very much for coming in.

BAER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Elizabeth Warren stepping up the pressure on Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg's national campaign chairman, co-chairman will be here to respond.


The Democratic candidates making their final pitch to Nevada voters. But some are also making big asks to their donors right now. The campaign money crunch and what that means for the road ahead coming up.


BOLDUAN: So Elizabeth Warren is keeping up the pressure on Mike Bloomberg after coming out swinging in the debate this week.

In a CNN town hall last night, she walked on stage with documents in hand, and a message. Listen.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): I used to teach contract law and I thought I would make this easy.


WARREN: I wrote up a release and covenant not to sue. And all that Mayor Bloomberg has to do is download it -- I'll text it --


WARREN: -- sign it, and then the women or men will be free to speak and tell their own stories.


BOLDUAN: This follows Warren's attack on the debate stage, of course, on this very issue, going after Bloomberg on sexual harassment allegations made against his company and alleged comments he made in the past. Bloomberg's response has been to brush off the questions.


So how does Bloomberg's campaign respond now?

Joining me now is the national co-chair of the Bloomberg campaign, former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa.

Mayor, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

We have not heard a response directly from the campaign to Warren's proposed document last night, if you will. What do you say to it?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think he did respond at the debate and he said he's not going to instruct the company to open those disclosure agreements.

And, of course, Elizabeth Warren and others are going to continue to focus on that issue. That's what people doing in campaigns.

I thought, for the most part, that with respect to this issue that he's made his case. He said that he's not going to open it up and going to go forward.

BOLDUAN: Warren and many others have said that his response is not enough. This is a new time, a new age, and it is not going to fly, they say. I mean, does he need to have a better answer than as he said on the stage, they signed the agreements and will live with it, and also maybe they don't like my jokes?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, look, I was watching the debate with a group of women, all of whom either worked with him at -- during his mayorship, worked with him at Bloomberg, L.P., or worked with him in the campaign. And what they said was there has been, you know, an atmosphere of respect for women, women are promoted there, there are many women in high-level positions in his operations.


BOLDUAN: I hear you, Mayor, and I'm not questioning -- I'm not questioning they had great experiences and that Bloomberg has promoted women in the operation one bit.

But what Elizabeth Warren has said and others is that's like saying I didn't mistreat some women because they're specifically talking about these specific cases where these people have signed nondisclosure agreements. And he's not specifically -- the way he's addressing it is to say we're going to live with it.

VILLARAIGOSA: What he's saying is we're moving forward. What he's also said and what he's done, he's had an administration that focused on women and children, expanding health care to more than a million people. He's used his philanthropy in support of Planned Parenthood and woman's right to choose. He's taken on the issue of gun violence, which disproportionately affects families, women and children. And, you know, he's moving on.

Obviously, she's going to continue on that theme. But I think most people realize that we want to -- we want a candidate that, frankly -- a candidate that can actually beat Donald Trump. A candidate who has got a record. A person who has come together and can bring people together.

You know, it is interesting, Kate, that so many mayors have gotten behind his candidacy. I think they have because they have seen a guy who actually gets things done.

One of the other things that she and some of the other candidates said was that he's never done anything. Really? This guy was mayor of New York for 12 years. He --


BOLDUAN: He's going to answer for the good and the bad from his -- from his time as mayor. That's part of what this -- what this campaign is about.

I am curious, because the campaign acknowledged that the debate this week was not a good one by Bloomberg. What is different in the one week from now?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, it was his first debate. Let's be clear. They all ganged up on him.


BOLDUAN: You guarantee it is go to be a better --


VILLARAIGOSA: You can't guarantee. But what I can tell you is we're working hard with Michael. He's going to get better. All of them have gotten better over the eight or so debates they had over a year period of time.

In fact, I think many people said that this was Elizabeth Warren's best performance. All of them have gotten better. And I think you'll see that -- and I think it is the record which distinguishes him from the rest of the candidates.

I was speaker of the California state assembly before I was mayor. I love the fact that so many of these people have never run anything. He was mayor of the city of New York for 12 years to say that he didn't have a record. I think we're going to talk about that record. His plan for the future as well.

BOLDUAN: And -- absolutely.

And part of -- an emerging thread here is that Bloomberg isn't what he says he is. That he wasn't really an Obama supporter in talking about the ads they put out, touting his relationship with Obama. That he isn't really a Democrat. We heard that from Pete Buttigieg. He was not at one point. And he isn't a champion for women, as we saw with Elizabeth Warren.


That is an emerging thread, though. How do you combat that?

VILLARAIGOSA: He was a Democrat before he was a Republican. He became a --


VILLARAIGOSA: And then he became an Independent and a Democrat again. So he -- for most of his life he was a Democrat.

It is true he was a Republican for a period of time. But he --


BOLDUAN: I feel like that's not what you should be betting on, the fact I was and I wasn't and I was and I wasn't.


BOLDUAN: But like on that one, just move on.

VILLARAIGOSA: Kate, at the end of the day, he's a Democrat. He has supported Obama. And he has supported Hillary. And he certainly supported many of the people running in those swing districts that helped to make Nancy Pelosi the speaker. He put his money where his mouth is with respect to Democrats.

He's also the only candidate who said whether or not he's the nominee, he's going to keep all of the swing state offices open and fully staffed. No other candidate has said that.

So at the end of the day --


BOLDUAN: -- is the other candidates don't have the cash to do that. That's purely the conversation about --


VILLARAIGOSA: We don't know how much cash they're going to have actually. Some of them may have some cash, can keep one or two offices open. They certainly haven't offered to do that. He has.

So I'm responding to your issue of whether or not he's a Democrat.



BOLDUAN: Many more conversations to go.

Mayor, thanks for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Programming note for all of you. Next week, CNN hosts two nights of town halls with the leading Democratic candidates before voters head to the polls in South Carolina. You can catch that right here on Monday starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, intelligence officials warning that Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the presidential election. But how far does the intelligence go? And are the White House and the Republicans taking the threat seriously.